Do you think the rise of violence in America and the subsequent dropoff was due to a generation of super-predators, lead-addled kids or the arrival of legal abortion? If so these data are a challenge to your beliefs. To find out why see my latest piece in Washington Post.
I am giving some lectures in London this week, so I am re-running my 2013 recommendation of one of my favorite of the films I have reviewed here at RBC.
At the right is one of the many memorable shots (accompanied by even more memorable sound!) in this week’s film recommendation, Director John Boorman’s outstanding 1967 US debut film: Point Blank. Point Blank weds the style and techniques of 1960s experimentalism with the traditional gangster/crime melodrama, with unique and unforgettable results.
The film begins with a literal bang, pulling us into a world of brutality and revenge. And then a strange, almost unbelievable story begins as a criminal named Walker who by all rights should be dead (Lee Marvin, in a powerhouse performance) somehow overcomes his fate and launches a ferocious, violence-filled pursuit of his faithless wife (Sharon Acker, also very good) and a former navy buddy (John Vernon, in a strong cinema debut) who betrayed him during a stick-up. He is aided by the mysterious Mr. Yost (Keenan Wynn) who appears at odd moments to provide advice, speaking to no one but Walker. Is Yost a ghost? Is what we are seeing all the fantasy of a dying man, or is it real? I’ve seen this film multiple times and I still can’t decide; I also can’t stop re-watching this magnetic piece of cinematic art.
Adding to the atmosphere is radical use of color that recalls Red Desert. Watch carefully the progression of monochromatic scenes in this film (at left is one of the “yellow” scenes with screen siren Angie Dickinson playing Walker’s sister-in-law), which resonate with Walker’s emotions and the state of his quest. Distorted microphone effects, camera shots and the like are also used to tremendous effect, as are dreamlike scenes without any dialogue (or in one case, only half of a conversation, an amazing improvisation by Marvin). Phillip Lathrop contributes many moody, lonely camera shots that further accentuate the film’s tone. The story, which was based on a Donald Westlake novel, also pushes the boundaries of the period, with graphic violence and the strong suggestion of a sexual link between the two male leads.
The studio executives hated the movie that their young director had created, but Lee Marvin used his enormous star power to ram it down their throats as is. There was clearly more to the man than his drunken brawler image. I can’t say enough good things about what he and Boorman created…don’t miss this one, and have fun analyzing it afterwards!
p.s. Intriguing interview with Boorman about his career available here.
I have written about how (apart from the Goldwater exception) from the 1950s through the 1980s, the Republican Party could count on California to give it a huge starting edge in Presidential elections and indeed provide many party luminaries as well, but now the state is a dead loss for the GOP from Day 1 in Presidential contests.
That’s the experience of UK Labour with Scotland, where the party was founded and where it drew many of its leaders for decades. Over the past half-century, it’s been close to a pocket district for Labour which enabled the party to overcome relatively greater Tory support in England. This chart from The Economist is illuminating: without Scottish support Labour would have been out of power all but 8 years over the last half century.
If Labour can’t woo back Calendonia, they will have to get used to more thrashings like they took the past two cycles.
I had long wanted to experience Alfred Hitchcock’s first foray into suspense, 1927’s The Lodger (sometimes subtitled “A Story of the London Fog”), but could never get through the film because the available prints were so beat up as to make it virtually unwatchable. To the rescue came British Film Institute, which despite the lack of the negative managed to restore the movie beautifully using a tinted print that had been maintained in excellent condition. Hitchcock’s version of the Belloc Lowndes tale as well as the best of the many subsequent efforts to remake it constitute my double feature film recommendations this week.
The story is set during a series of Jack the Ripper-like murders in London. One of the respectable families in the neighborhood takes in a mysterious lodger played evocatively in the 1927 version by early 20th century entertainment superstar Ivor Novello. His manner is strange, his habits are out of the common and he always seems to be out in the fog when the murders happen. Both the police and the family hosting him begin to suspect that a wolf has found its way into the fold. Hitchcockian magic ensues.
I embed here the restored version, which looks marvelous (Though BFI earns only an A minus because of a bone-headed decision to insert some utterly jarring pop love songs in at particular moments of the new score). But the real attraction here is Hitchcock, who even this early in his career shows how he will come to define with unbounded creativity the suspense film genre. His origins in the silent era no doubt helped him develop his “pure cinema” style of storytelling because of course without sound it’s all about shots, images and editing. What can also be seen in the Lodger is his impish ability to break tension with humorous moments. He and Eliot Stannard also changed the original story in a way that increases tension up to the very end. All in all, the movie serves both as entertainment and an education in the early years of The Master.
Novello went to Hollywood in 1934 and made an ill-fated talkie version of the same film without Hitchcock, but the story was taken up again to much better effect by a different group of filmmakers in 1944, and I recommend it as the second half of a double feature with the 1927 version.
This version keeps closer to the original story, making it as much a character study as a mystery/thriller. This provides a chance for the sadly short-lived Laird Cregar to showcase his considerable talents as an actor. He’s near-perfect as a man whose proper British exterior hides a roiling mass of emotion and need. The rest of the cast is also strong, particularly Sara Allgood as the woman of the house and George Sanders as a police detective. The production values are first rate, with much of the budget apparently spent by respected costumer designer Rene Hubert on a series of flouncy outfits for the bewitching Merle Oberon (More information about her career is in my prior recommendation of The Scarlet Pimpernel). The result is a movie that if not at the level of Hitchcock’s work is still a handsome and gripping piece of cinema.
p.p.s. In Robert Altman’s fine film Gosford Park, Ivor Novello was portrayed by Jeremy Northam.
The above chart presents the affordability rankings of national universities based on students receiving federal financial aid (Pro Public Ranking) or based on students with families with incomes under $75,000/year (Washington Monthly Ranking). In both cases the goal of the analysis was to determine what universities are most affordable to non-wealthy families.
If you want to understand how an Ivy League School could rank alongside a place such as the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, as well as grasp why calls for abolishing tuition are actually calls to massively subsidize wealthy families, check out my latest piece in Washington Post.
It’s an inky very early morning on the way to the airport, just me and the cab driver on the empty highway.
Me: How’s business been lately?
Him: Not bad. I’d be doing okay if it weren’t for that damn Obamacare!
Me: How is Obamacare hurting you?
Him: My wife and I were forced to buy health insurance this year to avoid that stupid fine. The policy costs me almost two hundred bucks a month.
Me: That’s a lot of money.
Him: And I don’t have cash to spare! We have a ton of bills we haven’t paid and I can barely keep up as it is.
Me: Bills from what?
Him: The hospital. My wife got really sick last year. They charged me a fortune!
I fall silent as we continue to travel in darkness.
Rather than focus on a single film this week, I am going to commend to you to three fine movies that the Motion Picture Academy snubbed by failing to recognize Oscar-worthy work.
Comic performances are massively undervalued by Oscar voters, who just don’t seem to appreciate what the great English actor Edmund Kean allegedly said when terminally ill: “Dying is easy, comedy is hard”. Exhibit A this week is Steve Martin’s brilliant performance in All of Me, in which he plays a man whose body is partially taken over by the spirit of deceased harridan (a quite funny Lily Tomlin). Martin’s matchless comic gifts make this movie a joy to watch. This clip is one of the highlights because it lets Martin demonstrate his flair for hilarious physical comedy. It’s appalling that he didn’t even garner a Best Actor Oscar Nomination. Shame on you, Academy philistines!
The next snub comes from another funny Steve Martin movie, Bowfinger, but this time it’s Eddie Murphy who was robbed at Oscar time. Murphy plays both an arrogant, psychologically unstable movie star (first clip) and his meek, errand boy brother (second clip). Hang your head Oscar, this was a Peter Sellers-like multi-character tour de force and you didn’t even nominate Murphy for his comic genius.
In addition to comic performances, the Oscars also have a blind spot regarding movies about African-Americans. Perhaps the most inexcusable snub in Oscar history is that the powerful, moving documentary Hoop Dreams not only didn’t get nominated for Best Picture — it wasn’t even nominated for best documentary! The entire nomination committee should have publicly committed seppuku to atone for their sins. My review of this magnificent film and a link to a site where you can watch it for free is right here.
When it comes to crime, nothing.
Baby Boomers are continuing to break the law at historic rates even as they age, it is young people to whom we owe the drop in crime and arrests.
Details here, along with the first time I have been able to link to a video by The Who in my Washington Post writings.
I had my shoes shined just now by a real pro, which made me remember this post from 5 years ago, which I am re-upping.
The amount of time it took me today to find a shoe shine stand in a major airport attests to how changes in men’s fashion over the past 50 years have contracted the size of the market. But I eventually located a master practitioner of the craft and emerged with my footwear emitting the distinctive soft glow of well-attended black leather.
In Mamet’s movie version of “Glengarry, Glen Ross,” Alec Baldwin’s character degrades the less successful salesmen by saying “You’ll be shining my shoes,” reflecting the ancient idea that what is associated with the feet is disgusting, including of course cleaning the feet of others (the Biblical story of Jesus asking his disciples to follow his example of service and then washing their feet didn’t stimulate a widespread change in attitude).
As I got my own shoes shined, I remembered a story told by former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young. When he was mayor of Atlanta, he would get his wingtips buffed by an older man who charged $4, making a $5 bill the perfect payment including tip (This apparently is still the business model, I tend to get charged $7 to $8 today, just below the Alexander Hamilton breakpoint). Perhaps feeling a little awkward that he, a very successful post-civil rights movement African-American man, was having his shoes shined regularly by a pre-movement older African-American man, Young made an effort to get to know him and found out to his surprise that the shoe shiner restored so many pairs of shoes a day at $5 a pop that he had been able to afford the rearing of four children, including sending all of them through college.
The conclusion Young drew has stayed with me: “There is no such thing as menial work, only menial pay.”
Google not and try your hand at this quiz, in which you must name the mythical places that each of the directions given will take you. Answers after the jump, please post your score.
1. Follow the Yellow Brick Road.
2. Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning.
3. Pass through the toll booth and then decide something without having a good reason.
4. Go down the rabbit hole.
5. Find the wardrobe in the spare room, and push your way through the old clothes hanging therein.
6. Speak friend and enter.
7. Pick up the train at platform 9 and three-quarters.
8. Go to Mist County and look for the place where all the children are above average.
9. Search by the shores of Lake Parime.
10. Go down the volcanic tubes at Snæfellsjökull.